Steelers: A twist in Heath Miller's tale

Brown's emergence at WR opens lanes for veteran tight end

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When Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians implored his unit Wednesday to focus on team goals rather than individual accolades, veteran tight end Heath Miller likely didn't need the reminder.

When told that he was five catches away from the Steelers record for tight ends, Miller shrugged his shoulders.

"I didn't know that," he said. "It is what it is. I'm sure at some point you can take time to look back and reflect on things, but now is not the time. Hopefully, now we're just focused on winning games at the end of the year. Those things will come as you win."

Miller has 324 catches in his career, trailing only Elbie Nickel's 329. His four catches in Week 7 moved him past Franco Harris for sixth place on the all-time Steelers list.

After a somewhat slow start, Miller has seen his role in the passing game increase in recent weeks. With the exception of a five-catch showing against Indianapolis in Week 3, he caught three or fewer passes in each of the first five games.

Since then, Miller has had more passes thrown his way. He had his best game this season in the Week 8 win against New England, when he caught seven passes for 85 yards. He got involved early and often against the Patriots, with six first-half receptions for 76 yards.

"That's just the way things shake out sometimes," he said. "We have a lot of talented receivers on the team, and teams choose to try and match up more, take our receivers out of the game, maybe it gives the tight ends more opportunities underneath."

The emergence of Antonio Brown has helped Miller's production. In four games since Week 7 against Arizona, when Brown had seven catches for 102 yards, Miller equaled his catch total from the first six games combined.

Miller, Brown and Mike Wallace have combined for 135 catches this season, and are the only trio of teammates ranked in the top 15 in the AFC in catches.

"We've got a lot of really good receivers who are capable of beating you deep, and I think defenses are trying to limit the big plays and make us go the long way, so to speak," Miller said. "With that, I guess more catches come to the underneath routes, the short and intermediate stuff."

Miller's emergence has also coincided with Hines Ward filling a more limited role in the offense. It might be easy to say that Miller is simply replacing Ward, who was best in the short and intermediate passing game. Miller, though, said that wasn't necessarily the case.

"I think we can run those routes out of different packages, and we have since I've been here," he said. "It's just the way things have shaken out, and I don't think anything's changed in that regard."

Miller has been a model of consistency since being drafted by the Steelers in 2005, missing only four games over his seven-year career. The team's Week 9 loss to Baltimore was his 100th career start.

Arians said that consistency has helped Miller find his role in the Steelers offense as new players like Brown and fellow receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Jericho Cotchery entered the mix.

"We don't have to force it to anybody anymore," Arians said. "It's just who gets open gets the ball, and everybody's throwing their hand in the pile to make sure they're getting open. Teams that want to double cover us outside, it's going to open up the inside people."

Though he's clearly not a fan of individual statistics, here's one Miller would enjoy: After the 32-20 win against Arizona in which Miller caught a scoring pass, the team is 22-6 when he scores a touchdown.

"I think the most important thing is to put ourselves in position to do something," Miller said.

"There's still a lot of football left, and I think there'll be a lot of separation over the next six games.

"Hopefully, we separate ourselves in a good way."

Sam Werner: or 412-263-1459.


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